Sunday, May 30, 2010

“It is good to live and learn.”

I was intrigued by the advice that Chantal Hébert had for the Liberal Party late last week, in the middle of a series of polls showing the Conservatives generally trending up and in particular widening a gap in seat-rich Ontario.  Hébert suggests that Liberals would be wise to embrace electoral reform as a national party-building survival mechanism. :)

In answer to a question on this at a townhall in March of 2009, then interim Leader Michael Ignatieff was cool to the idea, saying that he was “not yet convinced” on PR, preferring the stability provided by our current system and that he wouldn’t want to “turn this place into Italy”. (Go to about 8:45 of this clip.)

One of the first jobs I had at the Liberal Party Secretariat in the mid-80’s was in the Organization Department. I developed a predictive polling model for the Party.  It was the early days of “desktop” computing.  I had a tower the size of a small car, and a screen the size of a CD.  We ran an operating system and stored data on floppy disks the size of an iPad.  I personally inputted the results for 282 ridings into a Lotus spreadsheet, because of course, Elections Canada did not provide (or even record as far was we knew) the results in electronic format.  We had to refer to the blue books.  Because the Party could not afford a “pollster of record” at the time, I used data from public opinion polls published in the newspapers.

Taking into account a lot of provisos, my little model proved surprisingly accurate for the ’88 and ’93 general elections, including the prediction of a clean sweep in Ontario in ‘93 – which even the Party mucky mucks at the time, could barely believe.

Prevailing wisdom at the time was that with three competitive parties, 42/43% would get you a majority given the first past the post system.  With four competitive parties, things begin to change.  So it was in 1993 when with 53% of the vote in Ontario (a true majority rare in Canadian politics) the Liberals captured 98 out of 99 seats,and with them one-third of the available seats in the country - period.  The one other seat went to, wait for it, Reform, which captured 20% of the vote in Ontario; the PC’s were at 17.6% and the NDP at 6%.  (Change some party names and you start to see the similarities to today.)

Flash forward to last week’s series of voter intention polls and the trends they project for Ontario, par example and Hébert’s words of advice become even more poignant.  

Seat predictor site, takes the Harris/Decima’s 5-point gap in Ontario and turns it into a 13- seat gap (CPC: 39% = 54 seats; LPC: 34% = 41 seats) and EKOS’s 8-point gap into a 20-seat gap, (CPC: 39% = 56 seats; LPC: 31%= 36 seats). With Friday’s Leger Marketing poll result showing a 14-point gap in Ontario (CPC: 42%; LPC: 28), it doesn’t take much arithmetic genius to imagine the devastating result.

Convinced yet?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

“It is a true saying that a man must eat a peck of salt with his friend before he knows him.”

Yes, let’s chat a bit, chew the fat, hash a few things out.

I must admit that when I saw the Liberal talking points on the “coalition fear-mongering”, I had exactly the same reaction as this guy’s musings.

Last week I sent the letter that follows to the Chair and Vice-Chairs of the LPC’s Policy and Platform Committee, copied to responsible board members and officials at LPC and LPCO, as well as some in OLO.

“Last Friday, exactly one month before the date of the “Policy Matters” conference scheduled for Ontario, I received a “notice” for it contained in an email note from the Party’s Membership Secretary.  I do not know exactly on what basis I received the note (as an “insider”, as an email subscriber, as a donor, or as a member) but assume that it did not go exclusively to actual signed up members of the Party as the notice itself contains a plea to join, in order to participate, going on to say:

“Liberal members have a key role to play in shaping our party’s policies. Between the point where the broad ideas and priorities are identified, and where our policy platform is presented to Canadians, members must weigh in with their views, to ensure those policies reflect the values and vision of grassroots Liberals in all corners of Canada.” 

This is an excellent sentiment, but I can only view the process that accompanies it as not much more than lip service.

As a very long-standing member of the Party, I have to say that I am extremely disappointed on several fronts.

·         Some of you know that it is my personal view that the leadership of the Party should be having policy and value-validation discussions with members before going to the broad public as well as after, and on a regular ongoing basis.  I believe that this lack of ongoing discussion, debate and consultation is a key factor in the appearance of a lack of surefootedness on the part of our Party and its leadership. 

·         As far as I can tell the date for the conferences was “announced” by the Policy Chair on En Famille on March 24, and while some of the very few active participants on En Famille have discussed various aspects, there have not been any updates on process, subject areas or otherwise posted there or elsewhere since.  If these conferences were not in fact after-thoughts to somehow try and engage the membership one would have assumed that all of the general preparation for them would have been already in place immediately post- (pre- actually) Canada at 150 itself, so that active discussions and preparation could take place. Even with a great deal of understanding it is difficult to comprehend no further communications in over 7 weeks. 

·         As part of the premise or positioning of the conferences appear to be about membership engagement, and hopefully encouraging the development of more activity at the level of the EDA in anticipation of an election, again, it seems to me that one of the better ways to do this is to encourage a lot of activity and opportunity well in advance of the conferences themselves.  I do not know how EDA’s can be expected to call assemblies or other gatherings of members to discuss these issues in order to properly present their association’s or further their region’s points of view.  You will therefore most likely end up with a bunch of individual opinion presented at the conferences; I do not know how this advances a collaborative, coherent (and perhaps brokered) party platform.    

·         It is very difficult to glean from the agenda (which was difficult to access for several days) exactly what will in fact be discussed.  The agenda simply contains the broad subject areas. If, as the agenda indicates, the plenary will provide the “set of statements from Canada at 150 Conference”, “Questions for themed breakout sessions”, and the “Regional topic presentation”, I do not understand why those could not be “presented” or available in advance.  We only learn that in the case of Ontario, the regional topic is “Municipal Infrastructure” by peering further down the agenda to the breakout sessions. Personally, I do not know if I would be able to participate properly without the ability to research and review a bit, and gather my own thoughts, opinions and positions, let alone discuss them with others as per above.  I am sure many others would be in the same boat. And, just how are we to discuss the subject areas?  Will we be accepting or rejecting, or improving upon a set of proposals?  Will we be applying a “Liberal-value test”? What exactly is the form of the input the marvelous statement above actually requests or expects? 

·         How did the regional subject areas get assigned? Wouldn’t it have been better for the party members to actually have been asked for their input? I don’t know that municipal infrastructure would have been on my personal list but perhaps there might have been consensus in the membership on that, we just don’t know.  In the context of platform development and the future of the country (at 150 recall) I personally would liked to have seen us discuss the future of our democracy a pretty hot substantive and political area of national discussion these days and there are tonnes of party members discussing it in all sorts of public and private arenas, but no one asked. I do not know how this Party, the Liberal Party of Canada could contemplate going to the electorate without some sort of discussion about the state of our democracy and what type of democratic institutions and systems we believe the country should have when it reaches it’s 150th birthday. 

You should expect that this email has been blind copied to someone somewhere. Thanks for listening.

Sheila Gervais”

I did not receive many formal responses, but that fact and the content of those that I did are not the point of my posting this letter here.  The talking points referred to above are.

Now that it’s out there, I expect there will be “debate” in the Party about this statement as WK points out:

We aren’t interested in coalitions.  

Just not formal debate.  And that’s a darn shame. Isn’t that exactly the type of thing that the Party should be discussing when it gets together to discuss stuff in June?  Isn’t that the type of rather big, principled stuff you consult on or at least seek some guidance on before making such a categorical and definitive statement?  Why do we allow ourselves to fear a good, healthy, principled debate?  I’m just asking.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Time ripens all things. No man is born wise."

Focus, people, focus!  I must admit, I am scratching my head a bit at this, this, this, and this. Do a search of today's media - main and social - and you will find many more opinions and pontifications on Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's very public, deliberate and obviously controversial comments about the selection of our next/current Governor General.   Just when I thought we were starting to push a few hot buttons and connect the dots on the theme of Harper's Juntaesque tendencies (we're gonna smoke 'em out), towards democracy and human rights we make the oddest, rather indiscreet, intervention.  Why even the crazed musings of an obviously conflicted and confused Conservative Senatrice, which fairly nicely make this point all on their own, get overshadowed by this unnecessary distraction.  Please, can we focus on what really matters? Can we just stick with our own the program?